The GQ Punch List

Friday  September 25, 2009

What you need to check out, watch, read, and do in the next 72 hours.

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Make the G-20 fun. Before Pittsburgh burns, check out the G-20-inspired exhibit at the local Andy Warhol Museum. “Drawn to the Summit” showcases political cartoons of the moment from each of the member countries, promising to be way more fun than the actual conference.

Read the book, see the movie. Little more than a year after David Foster Wallace's death comes John Krasinski's (The Office) directorial debut of the author's short story collection, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. The classic book was long considered unfilmable, but Krasinki proves that theory wrong-ish, turning in an amusing (if not terribly insightful) portrait of bad male behavior, with solid performances from a parade of recognizable faces including Will Arnett, Dominic Cooper, Timothy Hutton, and Krasinski himself. Plus, at 80 minutes, there’ll still be time for dinner.

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Psych yourself up. In tonight’s episode of Psych—USA Network’s consistently silly, sorta-detective show—partners Shawn and Gus must rely on music to solve a crime. Specifically, the music of Gus’s old collegiate a cappella group, the awesomely-named Blackapella. “I wanted to call us The Incognegroes,” says series star Dule Hill (The West Wing). “But that didn’t fly too well.” What does fly well is this well-timed episode, which plucks a little bloom off of Glee’s rose. Plus, it’s given Dule Hill some newfound respect for the much-maligned a cappella genre (recently spoofed on The Office).

Pay the tailor a visit. Turn your attention to the gear you'll wear when the temperature really drops, and visit your tailor. (If you don't have one, now's the time to strike up that meaningful, rewarding relationship.) Look for loose and missing buttons. Tell him what areas to take in or patch. It’ll probably take a few weeks. Do it and you won't be taken aback when you throw on that topcoat for the first time.

The Complete Wardrobe: Jil Sander for Uniqlo

Friday  September 25, 2009

The esteemed designer gets back in the game, introducing a line of trademark minimalist gear that every man can wear—and afford

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Good news for minimalist design junkies: Plus J, the forty-piece collection by designer Jil Sander (whose work inspires the kind of devotion usually reserved for teen idols and foul-mouthed chefs), is almost here. Available October 1st from Uniqlo, the clothes feature the same pared-down sensibility that Sander is known for—at a price that even 2009’s man can afford. A collection’s already planned for Spring 2010, but here’s an early look at some of our favorites for Fall 2009:

V-neck Sweater, $130:

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The perfect cut of this V-neck means you can wear it any way you like: over a white shirt and paired with black jeans for a casual look, or under a trim suit (pocket square and all) for something a little dressier. Just be sure to contrast the colors—after all, you’re not in uniform.

(Left) Jacket, $130; shirt, $140; jeans, $50; (Right) wool suit jacket, $130; and pants, $50: all by Uniqlo +J at Uniqlo, SoHo, N.Y.C. 877-4UNIQLO; customer.orders@uniqlo-usa.com; www.uniqlo-usa.com

Light Down Jacket, $80:

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Sander’s devil is in the details: “I focused on the density of the padding, and the contour of the armhole, which actually took up most of my time in the fitting sessions.”

Flat-front Khakis, $50:

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A simple pair of khakis, but notice how the pockets are cut so that they don’t flare out at the sides, or the low rise so the pants sit right at the hips. Simple’s never simple.

Cashmere Cardigan, $150:

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Five buttons instead of four create a higher V-line, a proportion Sander prefers: “A cardigan only looks good if it hugs and firmly defines the body at the right places.”

Plaid Shirt, $40:

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The perfect marriage: “Uniqlo understands modern basics, so rather than reinvent anything, I put my signature in things like the exact shape of the silhouette and the angle of the shoulder line.”—jason chen

Models shot by Eric Ray Davidson. Still life photographs by Tom Schierlitz. Hair by Jordan Blackmore using Oribe Hair Care. Grooming by Kumi Craig for Exclusive Artists. Prop Styling by Eddy Alcantara for Mark Edward Inc.

The One-Question Q&A

Friday  September 25, 2009

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Fox's Family Guy spin-off The Cleveland Show (premiering September 27th) centers around Peter Griffin's lovable neighbor. Kanye West guest stars. Arianna Huffington voices an animated bear. (Seriously.) But we want to know: Why is Cleveland, the titular African American character, voiced by Mike Henry—a 44-year-old white guy from Richmond, Virginia?—adam baer

Mike Henry: I feel like I give Cleveland a lot of integrity, especially with the new series. He's not just "the Black Friend." He's a much fuller, well-rounded character then was ever set on Family Guy. Nobody has had anything really bad to say about it, knock on wood.

Rich Appel (co-creator): I think there's no reason people would know, but I think this is okay, too. We didn't invent Cleveland and then decide who to cast in the roll. Mike created Cleveland in episode three of Family Guy (season one) in the writer's room. He just started doing this voice and then the character kinda grew in large measure out of Mike's performance of that character. So he kinda was Cleveland long before the show existed. So to me, that makes it a little different. There's a tradition in animated shows, where you really can have the virtue of what people often aspire to, which is color-blind casting. You can have a grown woman playing Bart Simpson and Bobby Hill, and you have Hank Azaria as Apu. We have Kevin Michael Richardson, who is African American, obviously, and plays Cleveland, Jr., and he also plays Lester, one of the most redneck, potentially racist characters on our show.

E. Tautz's Spring Cinema

Wednesday  September 23, 2009

In case you haven't heard, designer Patrick Grant is on a roll. Back in 2006, he resurrected Norton & Sons, the famed 187-year-old Savile Row institution. These days, Grant has turned his attention to reviving the British sporting and military tailor E. Tautz. With London Fashion week in full swing, Tautz invited editors and buyers yesterday to No. 16 Savile Row for a cup of tea and a look at the company's Spring/Summer 2010 collection via a curious and distinctly British short film (watch it above). Yes, it's a little more inspiration than function, but the video presentation seems to have taken the place of the fashion show. Think about it: No models showing up late, no lighting snafus, no guest seating drama. Multimedia is the new, civil way to present even the most high-end clothing. While the video is fun to watch, nothing beats seeing the expertly-constructed collection firsthand. It's clearly a nod to the brand's heritage and the workmanship of The Row, and nearly all of the line is made from British materials in the U.K.—which may not help our economy stateside, but makes the clothes feel that much more authentic.—michael williams

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Gentlemen, Raise Your Bidding Paddles

Tuesday  September 22, 2009

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It’s not everyday that our accessories editor tells us, “This is one of the coolest watches I have ever seen.” Even less often is it that 100% of the proceeds for said timepiece go toward a good cause. Which is why the "Only Watch"—the latest from luxury watchmaker MB&F—turned our heads. It’s got more bells and whistles than you could hope for—an 18-karat gold, barbed-wire design by artist Sage Vaughn, automatic winding double-dials, and Swiss movement so complex it runs like a car engine—and all of the money raised for this item benefits research for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disorder that causes rapid muscular degeneration in 1 out of every 3,500 boys. The one-of-a-kind piece is being auctioned off this Thursday by Patrizzi & Co. Auctioneers. And while you probably can’t be there for the actual event in Monaco, you can place a bid at the auctioneer’s web site in real-time.—andrew richdale

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A GQ.com Interview with Nick Cave

Monday  September 21, 2009

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In the annals of superfluous creative cross-overs—writers who rock, rappers who act, Ethan Hawke—Nick Cave is gloriously immuned. Whatever it is he’s working on–a screenplay, an opera, a new Bad Seeds record, or a movie score–it isn’t merely an indulgent lark or an attempt to prove he can hold his own in another genre. It’s just another means to express his wise, salacious self. This month, twenty years after his first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, he released his second, The Death of Bunny Munro, which recounts the last days of a comically lascivious, vagina-obsessed salesman. The 52-year old Cave says the book was influenced enormously by two great works of literature: The Gospel According to Mark, and Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto. We’ll let him explain.—mark healy

Bunny Munro is a prisoner of his own libido. Have you come across any real characters who are so beholden to their desires?
By their desires? Yeah, I have. First of all, most of the men that I’ve spoken to that have read this book see within their character certain elements of Bunny Munro. And I’m not as sexually motivated as him, but I’m an artist and I think that in some kind of way we are similar in that we pursue something to the detriment of those around us. I think that the artistic processes are hugely selfish and egocentric.

Really? You think your various creative pursuits have come at the detriment of yourself and others?
I don’t think that they’ve come at the detriment of myself, but yeah. I’ve tried and made every effort, I have to say, and I’ve pretty much tried to keep writing as a 9 to 5 job, but it’s very difficult to turn off. One of the skills I guess I’ve learned over the years is the ability to put things away. But it wasn’t always that way.

Do you always work a regular day?
Well, it depends what I’m working on. But I get up in the morning and I put on a suit and I go down to the basement, which I have to walk outside the house to get to, so it does feel like there is a physical distance between my personal life and my work life, my imaginative life. It’s just a few stairs, but I do have to actually go outside. That seems to be kind of important to me in some way, because the work I’m largely engaged in—well at least when I’m songwriting—is a kind of woman’s work, basically trying to give birth. It feels to me like I’m trying to squeeze a watermelon out of a tiny aperture. And there’s all the attendants screaming and cursing and blood. The writing of a novel, on the other hand, was much easier, and much more fun, and much more enjoyable. In fact I did that on the tour bus. I did that in hotels late at night, backstage and on the bus when I was on a tour around Europe and in America, as well.

Do you just keep writing or do you have to wait for inspiration?
Oh, I can’t afford to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is overrated. I can’t be worried about whether I’m having a good day or a bad day. I look at the whole thing as kind of labor. If you’re gonna go down and build a brick wall, you need to go down and build a brick wall. It’ll never get built if you wait for the day that you actually feel like getting out the bricks and the mortar. So I just go down to the office every morning. I try not to judge any of it. If I go down there and stay there all day the work has been done whether I’ve done anything or not, if you know what I mean.

There aren’t many rock stars who can write novels.
I don’t know…I can see why musicians don’t write books because I think to a lot of musicians it would be way more enjoyable to make a record. It’s something that you kind of do with your mates and if you’re successful you make a whole lotta money out of it and it’s good fun and you get to smoke and drink and take drugs and have sex with women and all the rest. Why sit down and become an author? Where you have to sit alone at a desk and actually put in the hours. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. I personally approach rock-and-roll music in a writerly sort of way. So it’s not so difficult, the transition, for me.

Last year you recorded a song called “And We Call Upon the Author to Explain,” where you praise John Berryman and sort of diss Charles Bukowski. I kind of think Bukowski sucks myself…
At last! We can all come forward. You can never separate Bukowski the man from his writing. If you took Bukowski the man away from his writing there’s very little there but kind of self-referential…shit. But even though Berryman had a very colorful life, he was largely in our imaginations. When you think of Berryman you think of his poems and you think of his character Henry and all of that stuff. When you think of Bukowski you just think of Bukowski. I think the point that I was trying to make is that Berryman is brilliant. He’s had more impact on what I do than anybody else, so…

You recently did the score to the movie version of The Road. What did you think of that as a book?
Initially I found it to be quite difficult but by the end of it I was weeping real tears. That language I found quite difficult. I thought it felt kind of self-conscious. I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy’s writing, but this particular book felt a little like that for me. I was sort of slowly pulled into the whole thing. I thought the whole device of the apocalypse—it was so brutal. If he’d put it in some other context—the final conversation between the father and son would have almost sounded mawkish…but because the landscape was so unforgiving and merciless it worked beautifully. I was turning the pages in tears. I think that’s a fine achievement for a novel.

You’ve got a similar father-son scenario in Bunny Munro. Were you wary of making it overly sentimental?
I mean, the only way it could have worked is if we can maintain some sympathy with Bunny Munro and that was, I guess, the most difficult juggling act. In Britain there is a particular kind of character that has that sort of sensibility and humor that Bunny Munro has, and the Brits love him. He’s laddish, sex-obsessed, thinks that breasts are kind of funny, and, you know, that whole Benny Hill kind of misogynistic sensibility toward women. I hoped that I could keep the reader to maintain a certain sympathy for that character even though by the end of it, he is a monster. But what I really wanted to show is where that humor and that kind of mentality can lead to. So as a writer, I’m not necessarily on the side of that character, but he did need to have some sympathy with him for the relationship with his son to work. If Bunny was such a complete asshole, then you don’t care whether the son likes him or not. So the idea of a 9-year-old—I have two 9-year-olds myself—that your father can do no wrong, was interesting to me. That I could create a monster, that no matter how fucked up this man became, the son just loved him even more.

And do you have that with your 9-year-olds?
Absolutely. I’m Superman. But I know that it doesn’t last, because I have two 18-year-olds as well, and I know that in a few years time the Superman gets kind of dismantled and you become a human being with all of your flaws and faults and inadequacies.

Is there a morality tale here?
I think on one level. I don’t think that I’m trying to say “repent.” I believe that what goes on in Bunny Munro’s character is in all men. It is innate within us—a kind of predatory sexualness—just as violence is kind of innate within us. We’re born with it. I think certain other things we must learn in order to negotiate ourselves through life, and those things are the better aspects of our character—empathy and intimacy and those sorts of things. So I was determined not to write a book about a monster who sees the error of his ways and kind of repents which is the normal way in which a lot of these novels go. I don’t go for the facing up to our faults and the admission of our sins and all the sort of stuff as necessarily a redemptive thing.

Can you recommend the Bible as a good read?
Well you know, I wouldn’t go through the whole thing. I would be selective about it. For me, the basic structure of the screenplay—and actually of the book itself—is based for me on the gospel of Mark, in that this is one of the four gospels of the story of Jesus Christ. And the story of the gospel of Mark absolutely concerns [itself] from the word go with Christ’s death. It’s this kind of garbled story that just wants to get to the punch line, which is the death of the protagonist. And so it is with the story that I’ve written—it’s called The Death of Bunny Munro. And the gospel of Mark is episodic in the same way. It’s a road trip…So that had a huge influence over the structure of the book. The other book that had a huge influence over this is Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto. Have you ever read that?

I haven’t.
Man, you gotta read it. It’s just some of the most beautiful, angriest vitriol you’ve ever read against maleness. And in the first couple of pages of that she does a beautiful job of describing what she sees as the male condition. It’s super-pissed off. And the way she describes the male is very much that he is kind of half dead and incapable of relating to anything other than his own physical sensation. And incapable of any mental passion or interaction, or sensitivities, just an unresponsive blob. I mean, it’s very, very beautiful the way she talks about that. And something that I kind of, on some level, recognize and agree with. And so, to me, that was what Bunny Munro was based on in some kind of way. So it’s kind of the Gospel of Mark pulped together with the SCUM Manifesto.

The GQ Punch List

Friday  September 18, 2009
What you need to watch, download, listen to, and check out in the next 72 hours.

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Tour the new Cowboys stadium. Sunday’s Cowboys versus Giants game officially marks the opening of Cowboys Stadium, the $1.3 billion monolith of steel and glass courtesy of franchise owner Jerry Jones. Place your bets on who'll be the first punter to hit the video scoreboard—at 90 feet high (five feet above NFL requirements) the odds will likely be in your favor.

Join the gang. Crack addiction, incest, abortion, and child molestation—these are just a few of the patently-offensive themes waved about like a drunk uncle's unlicensed handgun in the FX sitcom It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, which kicked off season five this week. If you need a primer, get Season 4 off iTunes.

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Pardon their name, but not their music. Slaraffenland, a Danish indie band we’ve been digging lately, is the perfect way to usher in the cooler months: It’s early-Radiohead with a kick of free-form jazz, cool without shouting, and addictive in that slow-burning kind of way—the sort of rumbles that stay with you after a listen or two. Check out their latest album, We’re on Your Side, which came out on Wednesday. Here's one of our favorite tracks.

Go heckle David Cross. Mock the Alvin and the Chipmunks star on Monday when he does stand-up at The Wiltern in L.A. Likely victims of ridicule will include groupies "with dreaded arm-pit hair," his rabbis, Bill O’Reilly, and personal punching bag Jim Belushi.

Thursday  September 17, 2009

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Toronto Film Festival: Round Four And Out

Starring George Clooney as corporate America's chipper equivalent of a hired assassin—he jets around the country firing people when their employers don't want the hassle, and it may go without saying that nowadays business is booming—Jason Reitman's Up In The Air is almost unbelievably good. We've all gotten used to putting up with the slovenliness of even Hollywood's most entertaining comedies, from the ramshackle way they're assembled by too many cooks to the cheap use of patsies and cartoonish finks to guarantee laughs at the expense of people we don't care about. An expertly wrought, emotionally satisfying contemporary comedy that has none of those flaws is a minor miracle.

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This is only Reitman's third movie, but he's made the leap from being a skilful director of slipshod material to one whose work has no visible seams between ace conception and crackerjack execution. While pleasant enough, Thank You For Smoking was riddled with the usual compromises, softening and cute-ing up Christopher Buckley's un-P.C. satire at every turn. As for Reitman's sophomore blockbuster, Juno, I loathed the damn thing; it took me some time to recognize that Diablo Cody's script would've been twice as obnoxious without Reitman's nice sense of tempo and gift for shaping appealing performances. In Up in The Air, he's working from his own screenplay—an adaptation of a Walter Kirn novel—just as he did on Thank You For Smoking. The difference is that this time he isn't second-guessing himself.

As the movie opens, Clooney's jet-hopping days are looking numbered, since a newly hired co-worker (Anna Kendrick) has figured out they can provide the same service at lower cost via teleconferencing. In a conventional slobfest, she'd be either a prissy figure of fun or Clooney's "Me Tarzan, you Jane Austen" love interest—so when Kendrick's character turns out to be neither of those cliches, the movie grows richer and more unpredictable on the spot.

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The same goes for Vera Farmiga as the hero's real love interest. Not that he wants to admit it, since she's just a fellow corporate traveler who enjoys matching perks with him whenever a shared destination lets them fall into bed. Our slightly dazed realization that being both merrily cynical and sexually available doesn't mean she's a bitch or a flake is such a relief from our expectations that AMC addicts may break down and sob at the evidence Myrna Loy didn't live and die in vain. Not only is Farmiga a joy to watch, but her sensational chemistry with Clooney is a reminder how seldom he's actually played opposite an actress worth falling for.

As for Clooney, ah well. Just a few years ago, he'd seemingly come to equate entertaining an audience with (lucrative) fecklessness while equating Real Art with (award-winning) sonorities. Since I wanted to see him combine the two impulses, I got fed up enough with his bipolar numbskull streak to rashly predict he'd end up pissing away his best acting years—and boy, do they know how to cook crow in Canada. He's as marvelous here as he is in his other Toronto entry, The Men Who Stare At Goats; as different as the two roles are, in both cases he's also using his charisma and cocky humor in ways that don't cancel out meaning or depth. The proof is that Up In The Air's unexpectedly bleak conclusion amounts to a deconstruction of the crowd-pleasing side of his persona that even Clint Eastwood, no stranger to that game, might admire.

And I swear, I don't plan these twofers deliberately. I'm just a frazzled blogger at the mercy of the press-screening schedule, is all. Nonetheless, supposing I felt like pitting mainstream filmmaking at its best against indieland vanities at their worst— not only which one has more sophistication, but which one feels truer to life, as if those are necessarily contradictory to begin with —I could hardly do better than Up In The Air for an invidious comparison to Todd Solondz's latest.

Few moviemakers have gotten the mileage Solondz has out of peddling an adolescent's fantasies about what grownups are like as the rotten truth about people. Unlike the David Lynch of Blue Velvet—a movie whose dream logic didn't allocate blame for its characters' lurid behavior to anything outside its creator's own fertile brain—Solondz comes on with the bile of a muckraker exposing social hypocrisy. Yet the boobs in his movies barely get any chances to act hypocritical before their depravities and closet hysterias take center stage.

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Pretty much killing any residual hope that he might have learned to move on, his new one is a quasi-sequel to 1998's Happiness, the movie that made him "Todd Solondz"—though I far prefer the earlier Welcome to The Dollhouse, which had the relative honesty to make its heroine a 13-year-old girl whose distorted view of her family was a given. With different actors playing renamed versions of the same batch of spiteful object lessons, Life During Wartime picks up Happiness's pedophile husband (Ciaran Hinds, taking over from Dylan Baker) as he exits prison.

Played by Allison Janney, his ex has started a new life with their younger son in Miami, where her cuckoo kid sister (Shirley Henderson) soon turns up on the lam from her own pervy worse half. Ally Sheedy appears in one sequence as a third sister who's now an Emmy-festooned scriptwriter—a gratuitous parody of Hollywood selfishness that's so lame it makes Sean Hannity look like George Bernard Shaw. The script's fleeting allusions to real-world events—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, chiefly—are just as vapid, since Solondz plainly doesn't have Shinola to tell us about the issues involved. He's just trying to trick up his fetishes with a spurious extra dimension to justify his overreaching title.

A sentimental favorite of mine ever since The West Wing, Janney could use a break from the frumpy-but-caustic sidekick roles she's usually stuck with in movies. But good as she is, she's trapped in Solondz's Rubik's-cube determinism. Not only is the character's hope that she's finally found Mr. Right (Michael Lerner) inevitably doomed, but her own sexual terrors—set up in a scene of instructing her son about pedophilia whose obviousness in laying the groundwork for a disastrous wrong guess would look unsubtle on Two And A Half Men—are to blame. No less cruelly treated is the festival circuit's rent-a-Jeanne Moreau, Charlotte Rampling, as an aging rich bitch who picks up Hinds in a bar. But Rampling has been used this way in so many films that she's become comically brisk at delivering the curdled goods.

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We also get another helping of Solondz's Happiness specialty: sex conversations between adults and children that let him get off on hearing apprehensive youngsters talk about "tushies" and buggery. If he thinks that's compassionate, he's kidding himself. But it's also true that his understanding of sexuality often doesn't seem to be a whole lot more advanced than theirs, and if he's an authority on eros, I must be Leonard Cohen. Which I'm not, but on this topic, Cohen at his sexist nadir is more trustworthy than a director who's pushing 50 and apparently still hasn't forgiven his parents for fibbing to him about the stork.

The Bill Clinton Tapes

Wednesday  September 16, 2009

A Q&A with Taylor Branch, author of 'The Clinton Tapes'

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It has been nearly forty years since three young Democratic activists named Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham, and Taylor Branch moved into a small apartment together in Austin, Texas, to wage a presidential campaign for George McGovern. In the decades since, the Clintons have taken that political fire to the center of American political life, while Branch has chosen a quieter course, writing three definitive volumes on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and winning both the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “genius” grant. Yet at the height of Bill Clinton’s ascent—for the full eight years of the presidency—the historian and the politician reunited for a secret project, hidden from even Clinton’s closest aides. Meeting late at night and sometimes through the night, Clinton and Branch embarked on a series of seventy-nine conversations about politics, the presidents, the Whitewater investigation, and yes, even Monica—recording every word for posterity. Acutely aware that their tapes could be subpoenaed at any moment and desperate to avoid making them public, Clinton squirreled away the cassettes in his sock drawer and has never spoken of them nor made them public. But this month, Branch releases a 670-page mammoth tome, The Clinton Tapes, that mines those conversations and delves into Clinton’s presidency and state of mind through a tumultuous and historic eight years. Branch sat down on the sprawling porch of his Victorian home in Baltimore to discuss the project, the experience, and the book.—WIL S. HYLTON

Let’s start in the fall of 1992. Out of nowhere, the president-elect calls you up and invites you to a dinner party at Katherine Graham’s house. What happened?
It was bizarre. When we were kids, we were buddies down in Texas, trying to get McGovern elected. We lived together, but I hadn’t seen him in twenty years, and I had no idea why he asked me to dinner. I had kind of reprocessed him out of my friendship, into being a politician. This is a guy who’s run off to run for Congress in Arkansas, when all the rest of us were very alienated, and had this pile-driver political career, and so I had reprogrammed him away from somebody that you could know as a regular person. This is a president of the United States! He may just be all greed and selfishness. I was definitely tamping down my expectations.

Had you been a supporter in the campaign?
No! I thought his “forgotten middle class” sounded like Nixon’s “silent majority.” It was a formula—part of being a member of this species called “politician.” But within twenty seconds, I completely reconnected with him. He just knocked me over intellectually. He comes up and out of the blue asks me all these questions about historic preservation, saying, “I read your footnotes, and I want to make sure there are things like that for historians in fifty years.” Even if I hadn’t known him, even if it had been Richard Nixon or George W. Bush, I would have been floored that he was thinking about that already. This guy who hadn’t even taken office yet is thinking about raw material for historians fifty years later.

Within weeks, you were swept up in a whirlwind with him—staying up all night to write the inaugural address, being onstage during the ceremony, and then actually entering the White House for the first time with Bill and Hillary.
The day before, I thought I was going down to hear a final reading of the inaugural and wound up working all night, then being onstage with no seat or anything, just crouched down. And after the parade, he said, “Come on, let’s go to the White House!” So it was just the three of us walking in, he and Hillary and me! I mean, he literally didn’t know where the Lincoln Bedroom was. We were wandering around, poking in closets.

How did you decide to begin recording interviews for history?
He was angling to get me to move into the White House as house historian. But I responded more to the notion of preserving his thoughts. I only realized later on what a tremendous commitment that meant for him. Because the only time he could fit me in was when he was tired. There were stunning moments; I would be talking to him late at night and his eyes would go up, just roll back in his head. He would fall asleep in the middle of a sentence.

At the end of each session, sometimes late at night or even early the next morning, you would drive home to Baltimore and talk into a tape recorder the whole time. It must have been exhausting for you as well.
I would do those dictations until I dropped. I would sit here outside the house and dictate notes until I fell asleep in the truck. Because I felt that it was a significant experience that I should preserve. But on the tapes, there are a few times where it’s amazing: I would yawn involuntarily four times a minute! Because my workday on the King books always started at five in the morning, and sometimes I wouldn’t know I was going to go down to the White House until six at night. They would call up and say, “Can you come down at eight?” And I’d scramble and go down there, have this session with him, and it’d be two o’clock in the morning, and I’d be driving and dictating, then wake up the next morning again. But having that drive home to Baltimore for dictation was a forced habit that turned out to be very good.

The level of detail in your conversations is overwhelming. You discuss the most minute foreign-policy details, political calculations. Did you need to expand your reading habits to keep up with him?
Not really, because I actually didn’t know a lot of that stuff! I would just set a subject out there and say, “This seems to be a significant topic.” I didn’t know the background and the parameters; he would explain those. And sometimes I would set a subject out there and he would give me what was already in The New York Times. Sometimes he would say, “We’re going to appeal. End of story.” And we’d move on.

The Bill Clinton in this book is very different than the version we came to know in the press. You describe a guy who was steadfast and idealistic, very different from the wishy-washy, flip-flopping caricature who let Dick Morris tell him what to do.
It was almost like a credential for old liberals to look down on Clinton, because if you looked down on Clinton, you could say, “He’s betrayed liberalism,” but you didn’t have to uphold anything yourself. All you had to do was talk about what a shit he was or what a sellout he was and you could get this cheap credential.

Meanwhile, you’re seeing this guy whose face is red with allergies, he’s so tired that his eyes are rolling back in his head.… He’s the last fighting baby boomer.
Well, yeah. For example, I admire Obama greatly, but if you compare Clinton and Obama on the National Rifle Association, Obama said, “It’s not worth it.” Right from the get-go. “You can’t win.” And Clinton was going after the NRA and assault weapons and cop-killer bullets the whole time. And he paid for it, and maybe it was a mistake, because it certainly hurt him in the 1994 congressional elections. But he did stick to his guns, as it were. He took risks. On Haiti—restoring Aristide. I would hear him say it: “This is going to hurt my presidency.” Or, “I could go down the tubes for this.”

In all the Kennedy and Johnson tapes you’ve listened to, do you hear the same resolve?
In some ways, Kennedy was just the opposite. People would idealize him, but then on the tapes, you hear him trying to kill Castro and all this other stuff. It’s disillusioning. And Johnson does the Civil Rights bill, but then he does the Vietnam War—and you hear them saying essentially, “We know this is not going to work, but we’re going to do it anyway.” Then Nixon promises to end the war, and four years later the war is still going. Then you have Watergate. So it was kind of like we had this post–World War II optimism about politics that was yanked out of our generation by hard experience. In some ways, Hillary and I were more typical of our generation than Bill. We were bruised and disillusioned with politics. We had more in common with each other politically than either of us had with Bill. He seemed to be on automatic pilot: “I’m going to run for office!” At the time, I didn’t connect that to idealism. I connected it to ambition. The notion that it came from a sense of idealism didn’t rear up for me until I was able to watch him in the White House, seeing why he would do things.

How did you contain that for eight years, listening to people say the opposite about him?
I couldn’t communicate with people, because I felt like I was in a different galaxy. I just dropped out. I didn’t see a way of fighting it that didn’t endanger the project. I couldn’t challenge my friend [Washington Post critic] Jon Yardley, who would sit around and bitch and moan about Clinton: “He’s no good, he doesn’t care about anything, he doesn’t believe in anything.” I couldn’t say, “Jon, I know that’s not true.” I couldn’t start that conversation, because the only way I could combat it would be to say, “I’ve been around Clinton a lot, and my experience is totally different.” And then some story would come out that he had these tapes, and they would get subpoenaed. So I just basically had to be quiet and not talk to people.

There are several parallels between Clinton and Martin Luther King—both are southern, same generation, men of faith, orators. But then there’s adultery. How did you process that?
Very painfully. I can’t say I’ve got any great answers. I think King got something good out of it, in a perverse way. He was driven to seek penance by public sacrifice for private failings. He would preach about the mystery of evil: Why could we not cast out this demon? But you know, with Clinton, I just had this assumption that when you hear all this, some of it’s true. I assumed that he had resolved to make it true no longer. Which is pretty much what King did. He resolved openly to his aides, “There’s too much at stake here. I’ve got to stop this.” And some of the greatest regret in King’s life was that he couldn’t do it. With Clinton, what he said was that it was a real lapse of feeling sorry for himself. He said it had to do with politics. Now, most people think that these compulsions have to do with more fundamental human things. I don’t know whether that’s true. All I know is that he said it happened when he thought he was doing a good job and got sucker punched. I didn’t read the Lewinsky stuff until I was working on the book. It was so tawdry. It was depressing to me. It’s fervid and tormented and brief. There were two bookends to it: He had these trysts with her during the shutdown and then banished her to the Pentagon or wherever the hell she went, and then she came back in that period right after the ’96 election, when he thought [the Whitewater investigation] was going to go away and it didn’t. He says he was feeling sorry for himself because of what was going on in politics, and that he just lost it. That’s what he said.

Was he a Lothario in 1972?
No, and I was sharing an apartment with he and Hillary. I had just separated from my wife, had virtually no social life, and they were all over each other. The only story was that we were having a hard time getting this woman politician to endorse McGovern, and the McGovern campaign sent in a guy who had worked for Jack Kennedy. So he met her, and came back and said, “She just needs to get laid. I know just the guy.” We were stunned. And then we realized he was serious! He went to the phone to call this guy in Boston and bring him down to Texas! And Clinton took the phone from him and said, “We’re not gonna do that, and if you do that, we’re leaving.” I didn’t do anything. I was paralyzed. And in retrospect, if Clinton was cynical about women, I would think he would have been more like that guy. Now, maybe he developed it later. I really don’t know.

It was interesting to read your descriptions of Bill and Hillary. Halfway through the impeachment trial, the doorman at the White House refused to let you in because they were making out in a hallway.
Well, that only happened once. I don’t know if their relationship is romantic, but it’s not cold. Sometimes when I tell people that they finish each other’s sentences, people say, “That’s because it’s a power alliance.” Like a medieval marriage between the prince of Spain and the queen of Austria. But there’s warmth there. There’s communion. They would hold hands. How much eroticism is in there, I have no idea. But it was striking.

Have you shown them the book?
I just took two copies up to Chappaqua last week. Hillary has it in Africa now, and he’s been off on this North Korea thing. But he did call. He’s called a couple of times to fuss about things. But he has enormous tolerance for honest criticism. I think he can take it raw, as long as he doesn’t detect that it’s done for malice. I was trying to show him the way he really is, and I think he respects that.

wil s. hylton is a gq correspondent.

Swayze In Excelsis: A Remembrance

Wednesday  September 16, 2009

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Some say the greatness lay in the oxymoronic premise of its hero: Dalton, "legendary bouncer." (The idea being that when he walked into a bar, any bar, he was known, and every head turned, because, yeah, he was *THAT GOOD*.) A legendary bouncer who, still more oxymoronically, came with a philosophy degree from NYU and a penchant for such Zen pronouncements as "Pain don't hurt" and "Nobody ever wins a fight." A legendary bouncer who, like Bono or Sting or Attila, needed no surname.

Some say the greatness lay in its villain, the evil small-town overlord, Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), who dressed like Tom Wolfe and whose pastimes included frightening horses with his helicopter and smiling beatifically as his minions screamed monster trucks over the merchandise of uncooperative local car salesmen.

Some say its greatness lay in the screenplay. To wit:

AWED FEMALE BARFLY: You got a name?
DALTON: Yeah.

Or:

DALTON: If somebody gets in your face and calls you a cocksucker…be *nice*…remember that it's a job. It's nothing personal.
TRAINEE BOUNCER: Being called a cocksucker isn't personal?
DALTON: No. It's two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response.
TRAINEE BOUNCER: What if somebody calls my mama a whore?
DALTON: Is she?

Or:

HOT MEDIC: Do you always carry your medical records around with you?
DALTON: Saves time.
HOT MEDIC: …What [is your degree] in?
DALTON: Philosophy…man's search for faith. That sort of shit.

*****

There was greatness in each of these elements, yes there was, and in the very notion of a kind of Jedi bouncer brought from out of town to turn a wretched hive of scum and villainy like the Double Deuce bar, "where they sweep up the eyeballs after closing," into a safe and happy place. But in the end, the element that made Patrick Swayze's Road House truly great was the homoeroticism that throbbed with third-rail intensity through its every cel. Here it is: Road House was—and remains—the most leeringly, queasily, triumphantly gay action film of all time.

This was a movie in which ostensibly straight men greedily eyed Dalton from head to toe and proclaimed, "I heard you had balls big enough to come in a DUMP TRUCK!" and "I've always wanted to *try* you" and "I thought you'd be…*bigger*" and "I see you've found my trophy room...the only thing that's missing is your ASS!"—and then howl, "Your ass is MINE, boy!" before having at him. A movie in which heterosexual sex was either punishing (the remarkably unpleasant sequence in which Swayze belied his assertion that pain don't hurt by pummel-fucking Kelly Lynch against a rough-hewn stone wall) or punished (the scene in which Swayze came upon a bouncer dog-humping what the man had dubbed his "Saturday night thing" in the broom closet and fired him for it). A movie in which one of Wesley's boys got Dalton in a seemingly unbreakable headlock and hissed, "I used to fuck guys like you in PRISON!" A movie in which Dalton, after breaking the prison-fucker's headlock and ripping his neck out, swivel-kicked him into a lake—and was clearly sporting an erection (or at least a cod piece) as he did so.

What's that, you say? Top Gun is the homoerotically superior film? Granted, that film, like Road House, was uncircumspect in its glorification of oiled male torsi. (The famous volleyball scene, soundtracked by Kenny Loggins' piping-high yawpings about "playin' with the boys!") But in the prolonged sequence in which Swayze—his rippling, hairless, oiled torso glistening in dawn light—performed slow-mo t'ai chi while Ben Gazarra watched smirkingly, lovingly, through binoculars, Road House achieved something Top Gun never could: pure creaminess.—andrew corsello

GQ Hits ATP New York

Wednesday  September 16, 2009

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Yes, festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and SXSW attract legions of fans and some of music's biggest names year after year. But there's something to be said for New York's yearly three-day All Tomorrow's Party festival, which holds a couple thousand folks rather than the 150,000 that packed into this year's Coachella. Held in the Catskills (about two hours from Manhattan) at Monticello's Kutschers Country Club—a kitschy, '70s-style joint complete with an indoor pool, a lake, and multiple bars—ATP New York gathers indie rock's biggest heavyweights and most promising newcomers to play shows in banquet halls so intimate they feel a little like the coolest prom ever. We stopped by on Saturday to witness the fuss first-hand and it was an all-out sensory overload.

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The day was ushered in by the crooning of indie heartthrob Sufjan Stevens—he of the admittedly impossible vow to release an album inspired by every state and likely the most earnest act on the hipster-endorsed music scene—who nursed a room full of hangovers from the previous night's Feelies and Drones performances with the entirety of his Seven Swans, a banjo-strummin' folk album that predates his Illinois success. Instead of rocking out with a full orchestra and that massive set of wings he's infamous for, he delivered a restrained, mostly acoustic set with the help of three bandmates, all dressed in over-sized tie-dye tees from a local gift shop.

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In the afternoon and early evening, attendees took breaks from their mid-day naps, afternoon swims, and lakeside beers to check out on-site Criterion screenings of cultish film classics If… and Paris, Texas, and performances by Black Dice, the Melvins, and one of our latest favorites around the office, Sleepy Sun, whose debut album Embrace we urge you to download right now. It's moody, sexy, slightly ominous, and totally worth the $7.92 iTunes will charge you, but don't just take our word for it. Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips—who curated the three-day event—stood backstage fist-pumping in delight during their 45-minute set of acid-rock goodness. Take a look at their performance of "New Age" for more proof.

The rest of the evening, Wayfarer-wearing cool kids ate free Ninja Turtle ice cream bars, drank Bud, and played table tennis in anticipation of one of the festival's headlining acts, Animal Collective, who started promptly on schedule at 12:15. Their show, mostly songs from their most recent Merriweather Post Pavilion album, was no different than their others, in that it was, simply put, the kind of experience that reminds you why you're compelled to see live music in the first place. There are no wallflowers. No crossed-arms. No posturing. Just bands of folks, arms in the air, moving like there's no tomorrow to some of the noisiest, mind-rattlingly good music you could hope for. And around 1:30, as glowsticks streamed through the air during their final song, "Fireworks," we, dead tired and sufficiently drunk, gave a few last hollers before loading out and heading home for some shut eye.

A few days later, our ears are still ringing a little, but we're all the better for it. And we'll be down for it again this time next year, if the party's still on.—andrew richdale

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Tuesday  September 15, 2009

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Toronto Film Festival: Round Three

Why remake somebody else's movie? To a studio, that's a no-brainer: ca-chung. Franchises get a new lease on life, proven crowd-pleasers are recycled for a new generation, well-reviewed foreign films can be transformed by reverse alchemy into crappy American ones. But when directors allegedly in it for the art opt to piggyback on pre-owned material, it's usually for one of two reasons. Either the earlier movie is a stimulus for something fresh that suits their own flukey priorities—cf. Philip Kaufman's Invasion of The Body Snatchers, David Cronenberg's The Fly—or else they're fresh out of ideas of their own. Not too surprisingly, filmmakers acting on Reason B have an amazing capacity for deluding themselves it's really Reason A.

Bad Lieutenant

Today's examples are Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which spins off like a banshee from Abel Ferrara's 1992 Bad Lieutenant, and Atom Egoyan's Chloe, which leans for inspiration on Anne Fontaine's 2004 Nathalie like a Q-Tip propped up by balsa. In neither case was the public baying for a 2.0 version, so each is best seen as an index of the director in question's creative energy.

From Aguirre, The Wrath of God up through Grizzly Man and Rescue Dawn, Herzog's reasons for doing anything have always been pretty gnomic. But my best guess is that updating Ferrara was his idea of fun—which has always been pretty gnomic, too. Starring Nicolas Cage in Harvey Keitel's old role, the movie is a glorious crock: Not only have the original's bad-Catholic thematic underpinnings been dumped like so much moldy lasagna, but Herzog's trademark fascination with the romance of willful craziness has all the depth here of a Wile E. Coyote tribute dinner. That didn't stop Port of Call New Orleans from being the most purely enjoyable movie I've seen in Toronto so far.

If you've got a weakness for Cage in full bug-eating mode, you won't be disappointed. Even though, as usual, whether he knows he's overacting is anybody's guess, his performance is a blast from start to finish: wild stares, unprompted grins, windmilling body language and a guided tour of all the neat things he can do with that phlegmy voice of his. Despite a human cast that includes Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer and the always welcome Brad (Deadwood) Dourif, who even gets to play someone sane for a change, Cage is upstaged only by a number of animals, at least some of whom are the hero's hallucinations; I'm pretty sure about the iguanas, undecided about the crocodiles. But all of them, in true Herzog fashion, are treated as more deserving of respect than their two-legged counterparts.

In the midst of this circus, whose plot (gambling debts, a murder investigation, drug binges, etc.) could give a Cuisinart an inferiority complex, the director's documentary side gets an airing via the post-Katrina New Orleans locations, which are so evocatively photographed you can feel the mugginess. There's no good reason for the mix to work, but movies don't always need 'em. Me, I'm just hoping Herzog will tackle Dr. Dolittle next. If ever there was a movie he was born to get right, that's the one.

These days, I'm not convinced Atom Egoyan could even get The Sweet Hereafter right—and since that's still the directing credit his festival bios tout a dozen years later, it's fair to say his recent output hasn't been a succession of triumphs. After the botched Where The Truth Lies and the fumbling Adoration, the Toronto programmers who haven't stopped casting him as Canada's gift to world cinema may be privately wishing they'd anointed Cronenberg or Guy Maddin instead. Chloe would benefit from either one's sense of absurdity.

Chloe

The increasingly painful-to-watch combo of self-love and radiant masochism we once knew as Julianne Moore is an unconvincingly successful ob/gyn doctor—you wouldn't trust this neurotic jitterfest to deliver a letter, let alone a baby—who hires call girl Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to test her music-prof husband's fidelity now that the zing has gone out of their marriage. He's played by Liam Neeson, who's had such a horrendous year not only onscreen but off that your heart plumb goes out to him.

But Chloe, it turns out, has not only a devious streak but designs on Moore, which. . . oh, the hell with it. Didn't photographing poor Alison Lohman with vaginal juice on her chin in Where The Truth Lies sate Egoyan's zest for conning comely young actresses into going lesbian for art's sake? While Chloe might have been tolerable as either a nasty comedy or a forthrightly meretricious thriller, it's grotesque as an ostensible showcase for Egoyan's ostensible humanism. If he ever deserved that rep, his work this time out makes you appreciate the candid prurience of Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls.

That's why my heart also went out to Seyfried, an appealing performer with more than a hint of Drew Barrymore's blithe early charm. A regular on HBO's dandy Big Love, she may have imagined her well-publicized Toronto twofer—she's also in Jennifer's Body—would show off her range. But tendentiously conceived parts like Chloe have a way of irking reviewers into faulting the blameless actress instead of the director's dumb fantasies, especially when said director is someone in whom they've got a prior investment. Especially since nobody will see Chloe anyway, Seyfried has enough going for her that she'll probably overcome it, but I still couldn't help wondering as I headed exitward whether I'd seen her promising big-screen career peak and flame out in all of 72 hours.

Monday  September 14, 2009

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Picture 13

Toronto Film Festival: Round Two

As one of the handful of literate Americans who've never read Cormac McCarthy's The Road—disgusting of me, isn't it?—I've got no idea what its virtues might be on the page. But since I'm allergic to the kind of screen allegory that simulates profundity by keeping the characters nameless, you'll have to forgive me if I only made it to the end of director John Hillcoat's film adaptation by thinking up handles for the father and son plodding their way through a post-apocalyptic vision of hell to get to—ah, symbolism—"The Coast." Humbert and Lolito? Bob Hopeless and Bing Crossword-Puzzle? I finally settled on Poppy and Jeb.

The Road's release was delayed for a year, and rumors are rife of studio tinkering that diluted Hillcoat's original concept. But if, as word has it, his intentions were bleaker, then God help us. Whatever else it is, the movie we've got is no picnic. As usual in the existential-starkness sweepstakes, the main proof it must be art is that nobody's going to mistake it for entertainment.

It didn't help that I'd walked out the evening before on a crummy quest epic called Solomon Kane that amounted to a shlock version of the same material. A brutal environment randomly pocked with vicious thugs? Check. An unbarbered hero tasked with the salvation of a dewy-eyed innocent in grim times? Check, please. Even granting that Hillcoat is a far superior craftsman and Viggo Mortensen's acting chops and commitment sure beat Kane star James Purefoy's, that couldn't help but redefine The Road in my mind as pulp with pretensions.

Even so, plenty of people who'd pat me on the back for bailing on the cheesier of the two are sure to be solemnly impressed by the other. Is it just because McCarthy's imposing reputation puts that of Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard, from whose bottom-drawer oeuvre Kane allegedly derives, in the shade? All I can say is that if I held a contest to guess which movie's dialogue makes a mantra out of "We carry the fire," I'd have to bar former members of the Pulitzer fiction committee from competing.

The Road isn't ineptly made by a long shot. Photographed in drab, wintry colors under monochromatic gray skies, the blasted landscapes and wrecked memorials of civilization have atmosphere to burn—something they often do literally—and the tone of solitude and desolation is impressively sustained. Yet a story that's all in one key from start to finish probably tests a director's skill less than having to modulate among a variety of moods and characters to dramatize a theme, and while the novel may well have done that, the movie definitely doesn't. By the time Robert Duvall showed up as a Tiresian wanderer whose big line is that dying is a luxury he can't afford, at least one glum scribbler at the packed press screening knew just what the old duffer meant.

Capitalism A Love Story

American leftism's one-man answer to the Goodyear Blimp has made a pretty fair career out of doomsday scenarios himself. So you'd figure our latest real-world apocalypse—last year's financial meltdown—would be a good bet to turn Capitalism: A Love Story into Michael Moore's most Zeitgeist-grabbing film since Fahrenheit 9/11. Instead, it feels weirdly dated, partly because his bag of tricks is both familiar by now and more inadequate than usual to his complicated topic.

The other reason, you won't be surprised to hear, is that Moore's trademark vices—from narcissism to shoddy thinking—are on ignobly prominent display. Never too reliable a documentarian, if you don't mind me wallowing in understatement, he isn't even a convincing or useful town crier anymore. He's a self-smitten pop star whose vogue is fading, that's all, and he's predictably reacted by amping up the stuff that made him famous to begin with. Not only does Capitalism: A Love Story include remember-when clips from 1989's Roger & Me, but they're underlined by Big Mike sententiously explaining that he "tried to warn GM and others that this was coming" 20 years ago. That's right, folks—the reason the world went to hell is that we didn't listen to Michael Moore. But he still hopes we will before it's too late.

Even the movie's good bits are nostalgic, like a brisk and fairly funny rundown on the causes of America's post-World War II prosperity that combines vintage happy-suburbanite footage with Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Yet what you can't help noticing when he gets to the mess we're in today is that he isn't much good at explaining how it all went down. Indulging his worst habits, he'd rather get laughs by showing us Wall Street insiders who can't explain it either. Not only does that end up perpetuating the sense of powerlessness he's supposedly trying to help Americans overcome; it crowds out any genuine despair he's evoked by replacing it with snickering complacency.

That's nothing compared to the gaga conclusion, which hymms Obama's election as the arrival of the Messiah who's going to cleanse the temple and put eveything right. (Try this for illogic: "This was not what Wall Street wanted," Moore tells us. "So they threw money at him.") What would have been a touching misconception last November looks downright delusional now, not least since Moore (accurately) portrays Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner as a market stooge without seeing fit to mention that Obama appointed him, much less wonder why. The glowing way Capitalism: A Love Story tells it, our current President really is the closet-socialist revolutionary of right-wing nightmares—a Good Thing in Moore's eyes, of course. But did he ever consider the likely effect? Thanks for handing your fellow chowderhead Glenn Beck that can of gasoline, you great big tub of malarkey.

The GQ Punch List

Saturday  September 12, 2009

What you need to eat, watch, download, read, and buy in the next 72 hours.

Dryribs

Warm up for the Super Bowl of BBQs. With the American Royal Barbecue less than a month away, you’ll need to be in top form. So think of Philadelphia’s Rib Cook-Off today as the exhibition game before the big match, where amateurs will show off their sauce-painting chops alongside the pros in an all-day event that’ll also test the limits of your digestion system. Twenty bucks gets you unlimited ribs, sides, a cold beer from Stoudt’s Brewery, and a front-row view. Let the training begin.

Watch Jay-Z from the front row. It may be fashion week, but the hottest ticket in town was to Jay-Z’s sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden benefiting the New York Police & Fire Widows' & Children's Benefit Fund. Along with "Hard Knock Life," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," and all the other hits, Jay played material off his new album The Blueprint 3. Chances are you weren't able to score a ticket, so relive the show on Fuse TV this Sunday. You’ll get the best view in the house hands-down.

Demetri Martin 2[1]

Download Demetri Martin. Missed the first season of the comic’s stream-of-consciousness sketch-variety show? Catch all nine episodes of Important Things with Demetri Martin, available on iTunes.

Get ready for some futbol. While Americans wait to see whether Brett Favre will flop in his second out-of-retirement comeback this weekend, the rest of the world looks ahead to next Tuesday and Wednesday, when the European Champions League group stage soccer resumes in Europe. This year, the two best Spanish clubs are lined up against the two best Italian clubs. The most exciting match-up of the first round happens on Wednesday, when Inter Milan faces off against last year’s Champions League winner Barcelona.

Admit that you’re too good for Dan Brown. The Lost Symbol might be a cultural tour-de-force, but if you’re looking to sip something other than the Da Vinci Code Kool-Aid, check out Blame, the third novel from Michelle Huneven. Rather than scrutinize national monuments for clues to a bogus mystery, Huneven navigates the study of the soul—specifically that of a professor jailed for driving drunk and killing a mother and daughter—in an honest tale of what it takes for someone to turn their life around after a booze-fueled meltdown.

URBAN-OUTFITTERS-POLAROID

Help save the Polaroid. We were disappointed when Polaroid discontinued its instant film last year–somehow, shake it like a jpeg just doesn’t quite have the same ring–so kudos to Urban Outfitters for donating sales proceeds from 700 Polaroid starter kits to the Impossible Project, a group that bought the last Polaroid factory in Enschede, Holland and plans to roll out a new-and-improved Polaroid-compatible film next year. The $180 kit includes a Polaroid One 600 Classic Camera, pack of film, and battery. Make your way over to Urban before they’re gone—again.

Saturday  September 12, 2009

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Toronto Film Festival: Round One

Grant Heslov was George Clooney’s co-screenwriter on the reverential Goodnight, And Good Luck—a project that had about as much use for laugh lines as the Sistine Chapel does for skateboarders. So I wasn’t exactly presold on The Men Who Stare at Goats, which Heslov directed and Clooney stars in. But I’ve guessed wrong before. This very funny, slyly pro-hippie saga of the U.S. Army’s nutball attempt to create a unit of Svengali-like “super-soldiers” gifted with psychic powers plays like a sequel to Joel and Ethan Coen’s beloved The Big Lebowski where everyone ends up in Iraq.

That includes the original Lebowski, Jeff Bridges. He’s got what may be his best part since The Dude as Colonel Bill Django, the visionary loon who sold the brass on paranormal warfare after a mystical battlefield experience in Vietnam. Decades later, his burned-out former star pupil (Clooney) spills the beans about their top-secret outfit to journalist Ewan MacGregor in post-millenial Kuwait City, at which point the two men set out on a flashback-riddled desert quest that inevitably leads them to Django himself. Old and cranky, he’s the in-house Methuselah for the Bush era’s privatized variation on the same experiment, headed up by a Peter Sellers-ish Kevin Spacey as Clooney’s long-ago fellow “Jedi” and finky Fort Bragg nemesis.

Working from journalist Jon Ronson’s nonfiction (!) book, Heslov and scenarist Peter Straughan have shaped the material with considerable cunning. The unit’s complicated back-story comes out in shaggy-dog snippets that work like blackout skits, but each goofy incident turns out to have a payoff once everyone’s reunited. The real treat, though, is the acting—not only from Bridges, who at 60 can still fool you into thinking he’s some genius casting director’s latest off-the-street find, but from Clooney, who may have finally figured out that he says more about American craziness when he plays comedy than he ever will in the didactic likes like Syriana.

If there’s a weak link, it’s MacGregor. Maybe Greg Kinnear makes the frantic-naif bit look easy, but that doesn’t mean it is, a truth MacGregor seems to have caught onto just as the cameras rolled. Still, that’s only a minor distraction in a movie that does lots better than Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock at reviving that counterculture gestalt—in this case, by transforming one of its weirdest offshoots into the grizzled incarnation of an older, better America out to redeem itself by saving W.’s version from its sins.

A Serious Man 2

And speaking of the Coens, their own much anticipated A Serious Man provoked the following overheard dialogue between two anonymous colleagues once we exited the press screening. He, with a shrug of finality: “It’s minor.” She, with a rich European accent: “It’s very Jewish.”

I’m pretty sure I don’t agree with the first, but nobody’s going to dispute the second. Copping at long last to their own Jewish—and Wonder Years—upbringing, the brothers have delivered the remembrance-of-things-past movie that too many directors louse up by doing it before they’ve had time to develop any perspective.

The tip-off is that their autobiographical stand-in—a 13-year-old malcontent who’d rather watch F Troop reruns than bone up for his bar mitzvah—is just one of the minor annoyances bedeviling the title character (Michael Stuhlbarg, in a wonderful performance). He’s a would-be steadfast ‘60s husband and father who’s trying to cope with a floundering marriage as his tenure review nears at the college where he teaches physics, and if he bears any resemblance to Joel and Ethan’s actual dad, they were lucky to know him.

If you’ve ever wondered where the Coens got their fascination with this country’s unwitting subcultures, it’s pretty clear from A Serious Man that they started by keeping alert tabs on their own. Partly because the Midwestern setting keeps the material free of the usual New Yorky cliches, this is real inside-baseball stuff, rich in precise detail—the menorah in a perfect Homes and Gardens suburban dining room, the synagogue’s “modern” architecture—that’s got less in common with Woody Allen than the Philip Roth of Goodbye, Columbus. Hell, nobody even mentions the Holocaust; that’s because they don’t need to.

Some fans will doubtless complain the brothers have gone soft by allowing that at least a few human emotions aren’t ridiculous by definition. But they usually drive me nuts when they play up the reductive side of their humor at the expense of giving their mockery any definable meaning, and that’s not the case here. The movie is often plenty sardonic, and not always justifiably so; the women characters are all coarser and shriller than the men, taking the bulk of the screenplay’s cheap shots. But even so, the literal tornado on the horizon at the end is as close as the festival circuit’s fave snarkmeisters have ever come to putting pure heartbreak on the screen. Picture Toto being the one left behind for a change, and you’ll know why.

Jennifersbody_04

Like the patriot I am, I believe that any movie starring Megan Fox as a high-school cheerleader turned entrail-chomping demon deserves my devoted attention. But even though Diablo Cody’s arch dialogue is somewhat less grating in an openly parodic context than it was in Juno, the sad truth is that Jennifer’s Body just isn’t very good. You can see all the clever subtexts the filmmakers were going for: the way the hot all-femme eroticism sends up male moviegoers’ lusts and fears at once, for instance. Yet any flick this pleased with itself ought to be a lot more, I dunno, surprising—and less padded when Cody’s inventiveness fails, which happens often.

Successfully reworking teen-horror tropes for that meta effect probably requires some genuine affection for the genre, as Kevin Williamson knows. But Cody is just seizing on a gimmick she doesn’t have any noticeable feeling for, and director Karyn (Girlfight) Kusuma doesn’t either. A good filmmaker who’s been shafted by the industry more than once, Kusuma mostly just seems eager to prove she can deliver a hit by copycatting Heathers, which is understandable but depressing anyway.

For whatever it’s worth, Fox is OK. Amanda Seyfried does a pretty fetching job as her chum turned antagonist, too. But that said, the only performance I really enjoyed was O.C. alum Adam Brody’s droll turn as an indie band’s smartass front man, and c’mon, Hollywood. Won’t somebody please cast him as the young Lou Reed in a Velvets biopic before it’s too late?

The New Wave

Friday  September 11, 2009

Apc_sustain_bottle

Most scents for guys follow a specific formula—they’ll have a woodsy base and a name you could find in the thesaurus under ‘bold.’ By that measure you could call A.P.C.’s Sustain the anti-scent. Housed in a handmade boxwood sculpture reminiscent of a sine wave (it’s actually modeled after the opening chords of the Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset,” as mapped on a computer), Sustain comes in an 8 ml bottle without a spray nozzle. Instead, the blend of twelve essential oils is meant to be applied with your fingers, leaving a subtle trace of tea leaves and smoke that, well, sustains. And with a scent this good, that's not a bad thing.—jason chen

Buy This Book: The Jump Artist by Austin Ratner

Thursday  September 10, 2009

Jump artist cover canoe orange[1]

While living in New York after World War II, photographer Philippe Halsman produced portraits—of Monroe and Einstein and countless others—that graced the pages of magazines and stitched their way into the fabric of America. But before he was an immigrant, and before he was a photographer, Halsman was a son. And it's with this younger version of the man—of which little is known—that Austin Ratner's historically-based debut novel, The Jump Artist (in stores now), picks up. In September 1928, while hiking in the Austrian Alps with Philippe, Halsman's father was brutally murdered. The aftermath—the unjust conviction of Philippe (a Latvian Jew) for the crime, his two traumatic years in prison, and the divisive public discourse the events inspired among European intellectuals—brought to light the early grip of the region's anti-Semitism, and would come to be called "The Austrian Dreyfus Affair." It was not until Philippe later moved to Paris, where he discovered a passion for photography (at first as a way to get girls en deshabille), that he found it possible to cope with the bleak winding down of the interwar years. Ultimately, this elegantly-written tribute makes as beautiful a use of the darkness and light of one man's life, as a Halsman photograph of a pretty young woman.—daniel riley

What's a Boom Chicago?

Wednesday  September 09, 2009

Amsterdam’s hippest comedy troupe comes to New York. SNL's Seth Meyers explains

Seth_meyers

The Groundlings. The Harvard Lampoon. Second City. These comedy institutions have been supplying Hollywood with a steady stream of talent for decades. Well, there’s another name—almost as influential—that you’ve never heard of: Amsterdam’s Boom Chicago. Huh?

Since 1993, Boom Chicago—founded by a trio of high school friends from Evanston, Illinois—has been operating out of a theater in Amsterdam’s storied nightlife district, the Leidseplein. Saturday Night Live cast member Jason Sudeikis, who spent four months at Boom in 2000, describes the crowd as “fucking stoned and drunk Americans, locals that have Heineken coursing through their veins, and horny Australians.” The company, whose very existence was once discouraged by the local government, has since become a Dutch institution, selling more than 100,000 tickets annually. (There’s now talk of opening a second Boom company at The Hague. The World Court of Comedy is in session!) Whatever they’re doing over there, it’s working. Because the list of Boom alumni also includes Allison Silverman (who won an Emmy as the executive producer at The Colbert Report), Seth Meyers (the head writer at SNL), and Joe Kelly (a co-producer on How I Met Your Mother, now penning much of Neil Patrick Harris’s material for this month’s Emmys), not to mention staffers at 30 Rock, The Daily Show, and pretty much anywhere else that is currently bringing the funny.

On September 13, Boom Chicago survivors Seth Meyers, Jason Sudeikis, Jordan Peele (MadTV), and Pete Grosz (Colbert) will perform in a show, Boom Chicago: All Stars, on New York’s Governors Island as part of NY400, a festival commemorating the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage from Amsterdam to New York Harbor.>

In anticipation, GQ.com spoke with Seth Meyers about his time as a little Dutch boy.—MICKEY RAPKIN

Seth, you spent two years at Boom Chicago—from 1997 to 1999. How did you end up doing improv comedy in Amsterdam?
I’d been out of college for less than a year. My friend Pete Grosz—who is now a writer at Colbert—he and I had done improv together at Northwestern, and we were in Chicago on teams at the ImprovOlympic. Pete saw an ad in the paper about auditions for Boom Chicago. I was working at a Mexican restaurant, the Twisted Lizard, in Lincoln Park.

So you figured it would be more fun to get stoned for a year than serve frozen margaritas?
In Chicago, there’s a sense that you wanted to be around all the time—in case opportunity struck. It wasn’t that attractive to check out for a year or nine months. I don’t think anyone saw it as a smart career move. It was more like a paid vacation. But my friends were fairly jealous.

A decent part of Boom Chicago’s business is actually entertaining at Dutch corporate gigs. I love that the head writer for SNL used to write those scripts.
I did it for the cash. And for the enduring love of corporate theater.

Have any corporate horror stories?
We did a gig on a boat once. The engine was underneath the stage. It was deafeningly loud, and we were shaking on stage. We did a gig for a construction company in the middle of Holland—in a prefab cafeteria. We did five shows for five different lunch crowds. The first group was mostly Portuguese laborers who didn’t speak English or Dutch. They were eating hard sausage with knives. We were four Americans with dumb hats.

The Dutch, famously, speak fantastic English. Still, it’s gotta be tough. You can’t fall back on easy pop-culture jokes, right?
That’s probably the best lesson I learned. Pop-culture references that you could get away with at a college improv show­—that doesn’t work. It’s good to go back to the core principles of being funny.

What was it like for you being an American abroad—before Bush, before Obama?
I was there before the new opinion about America took form. When I was there, people’s big complaint about America was that the waitresses were fake-nice. In Amsterdam, you know the waiters generally fucking hate you.

Seriously?
Dutch people are honest to a fault. And they’re proud of it. After the show at Boom, the actors have to walk out through the bar. People would come up to you—hopefully cute Dutch girls, but more often it was tall German businessmen. Anyway, I remember this Dutch guy said to me, “I just caught your show.” “Oh,” I said, “what did you think?” He said: “I did not like it.”

I read somewhere that Sheryl Crow is a big fan of Boom Chicago.
I heard Michael Chiklis came to the show. I was always excited when a Dutch pop star was coming. I wanted to meet someone who was famous who I didn’t know was famous until right then. Like, the Dutch host of a music-video show would come. Later, I made my first U.S. television appearance on Spin City. I was walking home, and I called [Boom co-founder] Andrew Moskos in Amsterdam to tell him about it. I had a great story about my first TV show! But he super-trumped it with his own story. That was the night that Burt Reynolds came to Boom.

I saw that video! Hilarious. If the Dutch reports are to be believed, Boom Chicago is currently embroiled in a turf war with, er, the Anne Frank House? Something about the right to distribute Boom city guides outside? Is this true?
Yes, I heard that.

Uh, who gets in a fight with the Anne Frank House?
It’s like when your friend is in a bar fight—you have to take their side. But I really wish they weren’t in a fight with the Anne Frank House.

There are so many Boom alumni working in comedy. Is there a secret handshake? An alumni job network?
Amongst comedians, everybody’s heard of it now. If you say, “I worked at a comedy theater in Amsterdam,” most people can finish with Boom Chicago. If you take meetings in L.A., everyone has heard of it. It’s an awesome experience. But dropping the name won’t help you get into clubs.

 

BONUS! Joe Kelly, How I Met Your Mother staffer and Boom alumnus, did a stint writing for Saturday Night Live where, in his first week, he was responsible for this awesome Lindsay Lohan/Harry Potter sketch.

The GQ Punch List

Friday  September 04, 2009

Our end-of-summer look at what you need to do, buy, drink, watch, and check out.

Meyerhoffer longboard

Invest in a longboard. After months of mushy, gutless surf, we’re finally seeing some fall hurricane swell out east, which means it’s time to wax up the board and hit the beach. And if you don’t own a board yet, the Meyerhoffer is a good place to start. The longboard remained virtually unchanged since the days of Endless Summer, but industrial designer Thomas Meyerhoffer, the man behind Apple's first translucent laptop, comes from the if-it-ain’t-broke-fix-it-anyway school of design. In his search for the sweet spot between a longboard’s potential for momentum and a short board’s ability to rip, he decided to reinvent the wheel. That hourglass-shaped transition zone between the nose and tail makes the board easier to paddle, and easier to turn once you’re on your feet. The other guys in the line-up at your favorite break will ask you what the hell you’re riding, until they see how well it rides.

Carrier_Ginger

Make a highball that packs a punch. When it comes to summer cocktails, few hit the spot better than a Dark and Stormy. It’s a drink with very few ingredients, so don’t half-ass it when it comes to the mixer. Grab a good dark rum, like El Dorado or Goslings, and opt for Fentiman’s Ginger Beer instead of a ginger ale. Brewed with crushed ginger and juniper, it’s spicier, with a higher ginger content than the saccharine, overly fizzy stuff you find in the soda aisle. And the “beer” in its name isn’t entirely misleading. The brew packs a mild (but noticeable) kick of alcohol (less than .5%) that tastes almost as great on its own as it does with that rum.

Gear up for football season. The air is cooler, the college kids are back on campus, and it’s finally pigskin time again. One essential new item in a fan’s arsenal: Daily Tailgate, a blast of customized sporting news on your favorite teams sent to your inbox each morning.

Forget Vegas. You don’t have to trek to Sin City to be a swinger. This Saturday, be the guy behind the guy behind the guy at an outdoor screening of the 1996 classic Swingers in Hollywood’s Barnsdall Park. Cocktail hour kicks off at 5:30, with four local craft beers (reservations required) served alongside grass-fed hot dogs and sausages, followed by the movie.

Guitar Hero 5

Pick up the guitar again. Trust us, Guitar Hero 5 is worth the hours of practice to master “Song 2,” Dylan’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” and the 83 other new tracks. An all-new “Rockfest” mode lets players finally jam on a single console with any combination of instruments. But the real reason to buy this right away? Kurt Cobain, fully playable and fully awesome. The game’s homage to the grunge deity's “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will leave you as sweaty-palmed as it will satisfied.

Rock affordable denim. We dig all the under-$100 denim options we featured in the September issue, but this pair deserves a special mention: the 484 Slim from J. Crew, a brand new style for the as-American-as-it-gets label. In stores now, the jeans come in dark blue, distressed blue, and black, so you’ll have plenty of options now that your white jeans may be going back in the closet.

US Motorcycling

Go moto. Motorsports in America get a bad rap because, well, we’ve all seen Talladega Nights, and motorsports in America generally deserve it. But it doesn’t have to be like that. For a different picture, check out the AMA Suberbike Race at New Jersey Motorsports Park from September 4-6. Watching a rider throw a bike into a turn with their knee sparking against the track is more exciting than cars driving in circles, so when a turn goes wrong, the crashes are spectacular. The crowd skews younger—and, yes, we’ll say it: thinner—than what you’ll find at a NASCAR race. It’s all the noise, speed, and gasoline smell you could ever hope for, with a dose of cool.

Smell like a champ. Even if you’re not in Flushing Meadows for the US Open, you’ll probably appreciate this light, citrus-y cologne from Lacoste, whose founder, René, was the original tennis dandy. Challenge is made with lemon, ginger, and teak wood, meant to evoke thoughts of the court, and the bottle was modeled after the ubiquitous racquet handle. Just watch the volume—your scent shouldn't announce you. You're set with a light spray on your forearms or either side of your neck.